Date: Wed, 13 Dec 1995 12:48:34 -0800
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]S1.CSUHAYWARD.EDU
Subject: Re: non-linguistic thinking
On Mon, 11 Dec 1995, Donald M. Lance wrote:
If we thought in language, how would we learn language? Simple as that!
How in anyone's imagination could Helen Keller have caught on when her
caretaker spelled out 'water' if Helen had to already have language in
order to think?
Boy, it looks like such a tautology when 'language' and 'human language'
are taken to mean exactly the same thing! Which is, of course, what most
linguists do when they talk about language.
That is, even if there's some evolutionary communicating base that we're
a part of, which gives us intelligence to the level of dogs or chimps
(which is not to be sneezed at!), we refuse to call it language, and
therefore 'whatever it is' cannot be pulled in to an answer about what
Helen Keller had that allowed her to learn (the systems of human) language.
Then, if course, there's that monolithic noun 'language' itself -- a
problem Dan Slobin pointed out in his "Thinking for Speaking" article.
That is, dealing with static nouns like 'language' and 'thought' can
drive you crazy (perhaps because they're really processes and not
things?), so you change to the more gerundy forms and then you can say
with confidence that ONE kind of thinking is called "thinking for
speaking", the kind of thinking you do when you are figuratively
'on-line' figuring out what to say while you are saying it -- and in that
case it is also clear that the structure of the language highly shapes
the thinking that is going on at the time.
So perhaps Ms. Keller was already thinking in other ways, and the
'thinking for speaking' kind of thinking was added to her repertoire with
her discovery of 'water'.